Q:

Can sound travel through a vacuum?

A:

Quick Answer

Sound cannot travel through a vacuum, because sound requires a medium to form and travel. Despite what science fiction movies show, there is no sound in space.

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Full Answer

Sound is a compression wave. When sounds are generated, molecules are compressed, and this compression propagates in the form of a wave. Sound travels faster through denser items. As a result, the speed of sound is significantly faster in water and in solids than it is in air.

The temperature of air also has an effect on sound. At higher altitudes, where the air is colder, the speed of sound is lower than it is at sea level. Airplane manufacturers have to account for this when designing aircraft, as flying too close to the speed of sound can cause a plane to stall if it is not designed for supersonic travel.

A chief complaint about science fiction cinema and television is that explosions and other actions have sounds associated with them. Space is an almost perfect vacuum; the concentration of hydrogen and other elements is low. Despite decades of complaints from scientists and fans interested in realistic portrayals, filmmakers still rely on sounds in space to increase drama. However, "Firefly" and some other TV series and movies correctly portray the silence of space.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    How does sound travel?

    A:

    Sound travels through a medium as a mechanical wave. It cannot travel in a vacuum because it travels by vibrating the particles of the medium to transfer energy from one place to another.

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  • Q:

    How far can sound travel?

    A:

    The distance that sound can travel depends on what medium the sound wave has to go through. The speed of the wave affects the distance that it can travel. Temperature and atmospheric pressure also can directly affect the amount of distance a sound wave can cover.

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    Why does light travel faster than sound?

    A:

    Light travels faster than sound because sound waves can only travel as waves of pressure in a medium, whereas electromagnetic waves, of which light is made, move on their own even through vacuum. Light's speed decreases a little when it goes through various mediums, as electromagnetic waves interact with the medium at a subatomic level. Sound's speed depends on the medium through which it travels.

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    How does sound travel through a medium?

    A:

    Sound travels as a back-and-forth vibration of the particles of its medium. It is a longitudinal mechanical pressure wave that varies greatly in its speed of travel and the distance it remains coherent, dependent upon the medium. Sound in air travels relatively slowly and for a short distance, while sound in a solid, such as the primary waves of an earthquake, travel extremely quickly and to great distances.

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